When the PM addresses the nation from the Red fort on our 74th Independence Day, citizens expect some plainspeak from him. Ram delivered, it’s time for 'rojgaar’. Ration not `bhashan’, hope not hype, healing not hatred.
Indians still believe that Narendra Modi is the best bet as PM but they are tired of him fudging his report card. They don’t want a five-trillion dollar economy, they don’t want the Rs 1.70 lakh crore corona relief package, they don’t want his atmanirbhar spiel, Indians just want the PM to take baby steps on the road to economic recovery.
Forget Make in India, Skill India, Start-Up India, Stand Up India… , Modi needs to emulate Deng Xiaoping who famously said that he did not care about the colour of the cat as long as it caught mice.
People don’t want the promised Rs 15 lakh in their bank accounts, they just want banks to recover swindled public money from all the crony capitalists. They don’t want pious statements on Ram Rajya, they just want the government to come clean on electoral funding. Why is it, voters want to know, that they have to account for each paisa they have while political parties don’t. After all, this is the Gangotri of corruption.
We rang bells for health staff and showered petals on hospitals but why are the salaries of doctors and nurses combating Covid being held up? Why are citizens already without income for four months being given shockers of electricity bills? There is such a huge gap between promise and performance that no amount of `jumlas’, jingoism or jugglery can patch it up. As Abraham Lincoln, no mean demagogue, said, "You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.’’
The problem arises from the PM’s proclivity for the grandiloquent and his pre-occupation with his role as the sole vote-catcher of his party. It’s time Modi realised that people want to see him as their 'Pradhan Sevak’ , not as the 'pracharak’ of a political party. A Congress-'mukt’ Bharat may be his priority but the people want him to fulfill his promise of a Bharat 'mukt’ of 'bhay, bhookh aur bhrastachar’.
It is just as well that there are hardly any dignitaries at I-day this time, let alone foreign dignitaries. The foreign policy of India seems to be little other than a series of selfies with world leaders. If our foreign policy was that good why did we not see the writing on the wall when Chinese premier Xi Jinping came visiting? Why did we lump it when our 'jigri dost’ President Donald Trump publicly threatened India over hydroxychloroquine? Why have we alienated all our neighbours?
Coming back to bread-and-butter issues, the nation is on the brink of an economic implosion. How many shocks can it survive; demonetisation, GST, Covid, civil strife, war threat? Even Lord Ram cannot save a team which scores so many self-goals.
Even Indian capitalists, who traditionally keep their traps shut, are beginning to say that Modi has 'flattened the wrong curve’; that of economy instead of Covid. As for an ignoramus like me, I only want to know why global capital deserting China prefers Vietnam over India? Has it anything to do with us managing our monetary policy like Mohammed bin Tughlak?
As for the voice of the 'aam admi’, it has been cynically suppressed by a pliant media. Such is the headline management skill of this government that an actor’s suicide dominates the front page at a time when dissidents are being labelled as urban Naxals, academicians have been either liquidated or silenced by the fear of lynch mobs and journalists and outspoken critics are being booked for sedition. Today, the indices of civil liberties in the country resemble that of Pakistan. What is this if not an undeclared emergency?
All this does not perturb the judiciary. In fact, it restricted the freedom of speech by hauling up a senior activist lawyer for contempt of court over his tweets. This is the same judiciary which operates through sealed covers, which takes the government at face value on preventive detention even when there is incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, which is blind to the sufferings of millions of men, women and children walking thousands of kilometres to their villages. Is this justice prevailing or justices prevailing?
It seems there is no such concept as contempt of citizens, that the 'aam admi’ only wants to know how the PM prefers to eat 'aam’; how much can you suck up to the emperor-without-clothes.
How will our Prime Minister know the 'janata ke mann ki baat’ if he reverts to 'maun ki baat’ when it comes to fielding questions from the media? Is this the same man who swears by Lord Ram who went to the extent of banishing his wife based on hearsay? How will the pradhan sevak empower the public to fight corruption if he throttles the Right to Information Act?
In fact, Covid has presented a perfect opportunity to the ruling dispensation to bypass a lot of democratic conventions. Talking of the pandemic, why is the PM silent on it now, why has he pushed the onus on to the states? He is the same man who gave 1.4 billion people just four hours before a national lockdown, something which even dictators like Idi Amin would have thought twice about.
And we have not even touched on the forbidden word, 'azadi’. The present dispensation ought to be humbled by the fact that they had no role to play in the Independence struggle, in fact they were stooges of the British.
This I-Day, we want the PM to allay the fears raised by Mahua Moitra of the Trinamool Congress about the seven early signs of Fascism which are evident in India: nationalism searing into national fabric, disdain for human rights in government, subjugation and control of mass media, obsession with national security, religion and government intertwined in the country, disdain for intellectuals and the arts and erosion of independence in the electoral system.
When will the PM realize that his party has been voted to power to solve `roti, kapda, makaan’ issues, not to push the agenda of an outfit that believes in its own warped definition of nationalism. Modi is a mesmerizing speaker but mass hypnosis doesn’t work on an audience with empty stomachs.
The writer is an independent journalist based in Mumbai